Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Two more FOIA releases from MARAD:
Again, the white-out redaction is in play for Exemption 5 of the FOIA rules, the so-called “Deliberative Privilege” as well as “Attorney-Client Privilege.” These discussions they are hiding go right to the core of what we are looking for in seeking answers as to the who, how and why STORIS was disposed of as she was.
Read about Exemption 5 here: http://goo.gl/gVTc1V
The first, their No. 4, duplicates some previously released information. The additional information revealed in this correspondence deals with discussion about whether or not STORIS was reflagged as a foreign ship prior to her export. As far as we know, she was not.
The documents are here: http://goo.gl/Qk7EvV
The second release is interesting in that it reveals that, in early 2012, there was another group actively seeking custody of STORIS for use as a museum ship in Long Beach, to be moored near the QUEEN MARY. It was pointed out to the group by MARAD that STORIS was a USCG-owned vessel that was a custody ship of MARAD. There are references to correspondence between this new group and the Coast Guard, none of which I have seen come to me from the Coast Guard through the Freedom of Information Act Request that I sent them on November 4 of last year. It’s already clear that the Coast Guard is either intentionally hiding information or at least approaching the fulfillment of this request in a substandard fashion. This is just additional proof that the Coast Guard is holding back on what they are sharing with me.
The second release of information is here: http://goo.gl/UQTi3p
On Friday, Aug. 22, I sent a request for an update on the GSA materials that were supposed to be released on or before June 18 and I have heard nothing.
Posted by USCGC STORIS - Life and Death of a CG Queen at 4:49 PM
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
“A fundamental premise of American democratic theory is that government exists to serve the people. … Public records are one portal through which the people observe their government, ensuring its accountability, integrity, and equity while minimizing sovereign mischief and malfeasance.” -- Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
“Far too often when citizens seek records from our government, they are met with long delays, denials and difficulty. Federal agencies can routinely and repeatedly deny requests for information with near impunity. Making the situation worse, requesters have few alternatives to lawsuits to appeal an agency’s decision.” Sen. John Cornyn, TX
As stated earlier, there will be opportunities for STORIS supporters to join in and help with this effort to find accountability from those responsible for destroying the ship. This is one opportunity.
At this time last year, Congress was on vacation and of no help to us as we struggled to save STORIS. Not much help after they came back either, come to think of it… Anyway, a year later, lawmakers are again on vacation. When Congress returns, they have a full agenda of issues to deal with. The following letter to the editor implores Congress to take up legislation introduced by Senators John Cornyn and Patrick Leahy to mandate government transparency in responding federal Freedom of Information Act requests. This piece is written by Denise Rucker Krepp, former chief counsel for MARAD and now an advocate for maritime industry, transportation safety and government transparency. It outlines issues with FOIA difficulties that closely mirror those that I have been experiencing with MARAD, EPA, USCG and GSA in the efforts to find the truth about STORIS and her disrespectful, illegal sale and disposition. From our position with STO, it’s a combination of no cooperation, stonewalling and exorbitant/punitive fees to discourage efforts to seek information related to the ship and her ignoble disposition.
The letter makes several excellent points, both from the perspective of this so-called “most transparent government in U.S. History” and from the angle of the U.S. government facilitating the export of American ships to foreign scrapyards. Secrecy in government is never productive or honest. Sending potentially toxic ships overseas for breaking in third-world countries is certainly less than responsible. This is particularly true since the government is also sending potential jobs away from American ship recycling companies and their workers.
But how does STORIS fit in this situation since it wasn’t our intention to see her scrapped? GSA should not have been involved with the ship because she was too large, displacing more than 1,500 tons. STORIS should have been ineligible for sale anyway since we know now that she contained undocumented materials that likely contained regulated amounts of toxic/hazardous materials. The government denies it – especially the Coast Guard -- but common sense and reliable witness statements and input from experienced and honorable veterans with first-hand knowledge of STORIS and similar vessels all raise some serious questions about the truthfulness of the CG and its testing/reporting protocols. The recently acquired documents from MARAD also show that Maritime Administration officials were even questioning the designation of the ship as “free of regulated PCBs.” STORIS was in excellent physical condition and should have been donated or otherwise made available for museum use, particularly since she was listed as nationally significant on the National Register of Historic Places. The hazardous materials in question would have been moot as they would have remained encapsulated and safe aboard the ship as used as a museum. GSA and its bureaucrats crushed all the dreams we had for STORIS.
Instead, STORIS was sold to an unscrupulous scrap dealer of questionable moral character. After he was unsuccessful in trying to extort money from the nonprofits who hoped to save the ship, this “scrapper” was allowed by the government to illegally export STORIS out of the country. The U.S. Federal Government gave its blessing for STORIS to be taken to what amounts to a third-world Mexican “scrapyard” for dismantling in the middle of a field. The U.S. Federal Government, represented by the U.S. Coast Guard, Maritime Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and General Services Agency, sanctioned the illegal export of a retired U.S. military ship in violation of federal laws that are supposed to prevent this from happening. And now these agencies are withholding the circumstances of that illegal situation from us. They are either not complying or are releasing heavily redacted information, hiding behind “deliberative privilege” or “attorney-client privilege.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy’s retired supercarrier USS CONSTELLATION departed last week from her long-term layup berth in Bremerton, WA, headed for Brownsville, TX, and responsible recycling. It’s a 16,000 mile tow since she won’t fit through the Panama Canal. Compared to STORIS, the CONNIE is a behemoth. The process for CONSTELLATION is a lot more transparent. But then again, it’s a lot harder to sneak around with or hide an aircraft carrier.
If the government can break the rules with modest little STORIS and let her out of the country for dismantling, what’s to say they won’t try something else? U.S.-flagged merchant vessels have been streaming to the third-world beaches in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for years, hazardous materials and all.
The lack of cooperation from the government related to STORIS, while not surprising, can only breed deep suspicion of the bureaucrats and officials responsible for this situation with STORIS. If their actions were above board and proper, what are they hiding?
Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, a conservative legal group is filing suit against the government, alleging that the White House is meddling in FOIA requests, stalling the release of information that might be embarrassing to the administration. Among the 12 agencies targeted in the suit are the Department of Homeland Security (to which the Coast Guard belongs) and the Department of Transportation (parent agency of MARAD).
While Congress was not exactly responsive when we tried to appeal to them for help last year, I think we STORIS supporters should once again take up the pen and appeal to our legislators to support this Cornyn/Leahy legislation for the sake of finding the truth. If we don’t speak up, it’s easy to ignore us.
STORIS is gone thanks to the government, but we deserve answers. STORIS and all of her crews served the United States faithfully for over 64 years. She and all of you deserved better. We can’t let her be forgotten. We need to keep her memory alive and share our anger at what was allowed to happen to The Queen of the Fleet.
There needs to be accountability. We deserve answers and the people responsible deserve consequences.
I am hoping there will be other opportunities to have our voices heard and will let everyone know when those chances arise.
Posted by USCGC STORIS - Life and Death of a CG Queen at 4:35 AM
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Here are the final, approved minutes for the STORIS Museum. In recent weeks, the board officers have been working through the various steps to terminate the existence of the nonprofit. The minutes discuss the aspects of the ship’s disposal and the distribution of the museum’s remaining assets. The minutes can be accessed here: http://goo.gl/DT9srn
Posted by USCGC STORIS - Life and Death of a CG Queen at 7:50 AM
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
The U.S. Maritime Administration has sent a third set of documents related to the original Nov. 4, 2013 Freedom of Information Act request.
Once again, redaction has stricken key elements of information from the documents. As before, with all the agencies that have responded to this point, MARAD is using Exemption 5 for deliberative, pre-process discussion as well as attorney-client privilege. Much of this information would have direct bearing on how MARAD handled the STORIS situation and is key to gaining a full understanding of how the ship was allowed to be sold and exported. All of these points will have to be argued on appeal for the redaction and withholding of information. If these officials did nothing wrong and their decisions were sound, then why are they withholding information? The correspondence between MARAD officials regarding STORIS is also marked as “low importance,” which says a lot about their attitude about the ship and the related situation.
Pg 2-3 – There is discussion among MARAD officials regarding the ship’s departure and whether or not the ship is truly free of regulated PCBs. MARAD officials claim that they are not responsible for the issues related to STORIS as the ship belonged to the U.S. Coast Guard and she was merely a “custody ship” at the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet. Therefore, it is MARAD’s position that the regulations and court-ordered procedures for issues such as hull cleaning for invasive species and removal of potential pollution did not apply to STORIS. A lot of this communication is a matter of MARAD officials covering themselves to absolve the agency and those involved from any kind of wrongdoing.
The fact that MARAD officials themselves seemed to be questioning whether STORIS was actually free of regulated PCBs is important. I think they knew that the ship had to have some kind of contamination that would have been problematic for excessing and foreign dismantling. How could they not know, considering it’s their job to handle obsolete ships, many of which were of the same type of construction and vintage as STORIS?
Conspicuously absent in all of this correspondence is any reference to Section 3502 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 which set into federal law the requirement that U.S. government vessels have to be dismantled in U.S. ship recycling facilities. STORIS was allowed to be exported for dismantling in a substandard scrap facility in Ensenada. MARAD officials should also have recognized that it was illegal for GSA to sell STORIS at auction because her tonnage exceeded 1,500 tons. This was a violation of 40 U.S.C. 548 (http://goo.gl/uVDtHa). Whether this is part of the redacted information for deliberative or attorney-client privilege remains to be seen. Regardless, the federal government VIOLATED the very laws they were supposed to be following. As indicated in earlier posts on March 12 and May 9, Denise Rucker Krepp, former chief counsel for MARAD, has identified these violations.
On page 3, there is a comment regarding Jeff Siragusa of MARAD inspecting STORIS and making note of “a lot of new wiring.” While this may be true, that there was new wiring in many locations on the ship, particularly the main control board, there was also a substantial quantity of old wiring. We know it was there based on sworn statements provided by two key members of the ship’s last crew, an EM2 and BMC. This old wiring was conveniently ignored by the Coast Guard in declaring the ship “free of regulated PCBs” and it was apparently ignored by Jeff Siragusa. The rest of the comment regarding Siragusa was redacted by MARAD as “pre-decision, deliberative process” protected. What does it say, that the wiring looked fine, posed no problem and the ship was clean? What is MARAD hiding with the redaction? Again, this gets to the very core of the information that we are seeking regarding the government’s assessment and disposal of STORIS.
Last fall, I had spoken with Gary Whitney, the general manager of the Mare Island Ship Yard. He told me that he walked away from bidding on STORIS as a potential scrap project because it was readily apparent to him that there was a lot of old wiring on the ship as well as other materials that likely harbored hazardous materials. Again, when I asked him about the presence of PCBs on board STORIS, his reply was that he didn't actually test for PCBs, but he saw enough to believe they were there. He said that if the Mexicans were going to look for PCBs, they would find them. Apparently the Mexicans really weren't looking for PCBs or at least not very hard.
It is interesting to note that Jeff Siragusa was vice-president and program manager at a ship recycling business known as North American Ship Recycling (NASR) located at the old Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point (Baltimore, MD) shipyard. In 2007, NASR was targeted by a lawsuit filed by Clean Venture, an environmental remediation contractor that did not receive payment for two vessels being scrapped. Elements of the lawsuit involved accusations under federal racketeering laws. NASR seemingly disappeared in the middle of the night, leaving behind a controversy and two partially dismantled ships, the USS HOIST (ARS-40) and the USS SPHINX (ARL-24). Both ships were determined to contain hazardous materials, particularly the SPHINX, which was identified as containing waste oil, lead paint and PCBs.
The Hampton Roads Pilot (Virginia), published stories related to the debacle as it involved several ships from the James River Reserve Fleet:
The Baltimore Sun also has several stories in its archives related to NASR, its creation and its disappearance.
The suit was settled confidentially in late December 2007 before it made it into court.
In the stories, MARAD officials are quoted in regard to the problems that the NASR shutdown and associated controversy caused for the government:
“The U.S. Maritime Administration, which oversees the fleet, said in a statement Thursday that it is ‘disappointed’ by the sudden closure.‘All rights and remedies available to the agency related to those contracts, and NASR's failure to perform under those contracts, are being pursued, but cannot be discussed,’ according to the statement released by Susan Clark, an agency spokeswoman.” – Shipyard closure sinks plan for 6 ‘Ghost Fleet’ ships – Scott Harper, Pilot Online 11/9/07
The situation couldn’t have caused too much trouble for MARAD if they turned around and hired Jeff Siragusa from the wayward firm to be a Contracting Officer Technical Representative for MARAD. His name shows up in a search of MARAD ship disposal documents from 2009-10 with a Washington, DC, phone number. Now he’s apparently in California. I wonder how other private ship scrapping firms felt to have a former competitor working for the government for the very agency from which they relied on to purchase ships or bid on contracts for shipbreaking, their very lifeblood?
There is also some sarcasm related to U.S. Metals Recovery actually taking the ship from the SBRF, with a comment from William Cahill of MARAD stating “I guess they mean it this time.” So apparently, there were previous false starts and failures to move the ship to the annoyance of MARAD officials.
Pages 7-26 involved internal MARAD communications in response to a message I sent MARAD’s chief counsel on Oct. 29, the Monday following STORIS’ departure from Suisun Bay. Again, it is a matter of putting together a consistent, united front to address my inquiry as well as the other inquiries that might come in from the media or Congressional officials.
Pages 27-28 discuss STORIS, GLACIER and PLANETREE (but not IRIS) and their situation within the SBRF, MARAD custody and Coast Guard ownership.
Posted by USCGC STORIS - Life and Death of a CG Queen at 3:39 PM
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Two years ago, we were busy pulling together the nomination paperwork to have STORIS listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Our efforts were successful and the ship was officially recognized as nationally significant with her listing on Dec. 31, 2012.
Just a few short months later, the same U.S. government that recognized the ship as nationally significant and supposedly worthy of preservation sold her to a shady scrap merchant who then held the ship hostage in an extortion scheme over the summer. The government then allowed the ship to be illegally exported for dismantling in Mexico.
We are left to ask WHY?
This was no ordinary ship... This was STORIS, Queen of the Fleet, Bulldog of the Bering and Galloping Ghost of the Alaskan Coast.
It is sad to read knowing her ultimate fate, but her exploits and history are forever enshrined in the National Register documents. Section 7, uploaded at http://goo.gl/1FkXPF, is a physical description of the ship as well as a description of the ship's evolution over time. Section 8, uploaded at http://goo.gl/DBK8Oe, is the narrative history of the ship.
If you haven't already done so, please read these documents to fully understand what we have lost. We should be walking her decks and admiring fresh paint in preparation for a triumphant return to Toledo where she was born. Instead, we only have black and white on paper to remember her. And for this is why we fight.
Posted by USCGC STORIS - Life and Death of a CG Queen at 8:39 PM
Apparently I am not the only one who is having trouble getting information from the Obama Administration. Forty-seven inspectors general submitted a letter to House and Senate Oversight Committee chairs and ranking members of Congress, warning of serious challenges coming from within the government agencies that the IGs are supposed to be monitoring. These agencies are stalling efforts to secure information from what is supposed to be "the most transparent government" in U.S. history. The Inspectors General allege that the agencies are claiming privacy issues, attorney-client privilege and other dubious exemptions to deny the release of information the IGs request in the interests of monitoring government operations and actions. The agencies are also reportedly encumbering the requests with overly burdensome administrative and bureaucratic hurdles, preventing timely responses from the Inspectors General.
This fits the same modus operandi of the federal agencies that have been insolent and uncooperative with us as we look for answers with the STORIS situation. Not only that, but these agencies have essentially ignored official inquiries from Congressmen and Senators related to STORIS. The comparative handful of documents that we have received so far demonstrate a deliberate and constructive effort to create a consolidated front to deflect inquiries from Congressional leaders who have attempted to get answers from EPA, GSA, the Coast Guard and MARAD.
There also seems to be an across-the-board mentality that these agencies are above reproach. I recently read stories where federal agencies told Congressional observers, including Senators and members of the House of Representatives, that they were not allowed to photograph illegal migrants at the southern border during this ongoing crisis with unaccompanied minors flooding into the country. Seriously? Federal agency bureaucrats telling lawmakers they’re not allowed to take pictures?
If the Inspector Generals can’t get information from the Federal Government, what hope does the average citizen have to get answers?
It is rather ironic that Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma was a direct recipient of the letter since he is one of two senators -- the other being former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina -- who were directly responsible for blocking the donation of STORIS to the STORIS Museum through Congressional action. And whose face pops up with the story link below? Coburn.
Dozens of Inspectors general say federal government hindering oversight - Washington Post
Agency watchdogs tell lawmakers that officials stonewalled probes - The Hill
‘Serious limitations’: Gov’t watchdogs unite in letter slamming Obama administration transparency - Fox News
The letter can be read in its entirety here.
Posted by USCGC STORIS - Life and Death of a CG Queen at 8:37 PM
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
As stated last week, another FOIA release has been received from the US Maritime Administration. The cover letter is here: http://goo.gl/0Jc2r1 and the documents are here: http://goo.gl/0hqc9f.
Overall, it is safe to say that MARAD FOIA officials were too heavy with their redactions. Big surprise.
There are over 100 pages in this release. However, the information as a whole is not exactly helpful and raises more questions as over 60 pages involve documents to/from the U.S. Coast Guard and these pages were redacted. An additional three pages involved GSA and those, too, were withheld. These documents have supposedly been forwarded by MARAD to the respective agencies to determine whether or not the information can be released and, if so, those agencies will release the information to me.
Not very promising, considering that GSA is now 48 days late in providing the materials from the FOIA that I sent specifically to that agency nine months ago yesterday. GSA FOIA officials assured me that the information would be received on or before June 18 after they decided to waive over $10,000 in fees associated with the request. The Coast Guard has also not been cooperative, withholding information or just being deceitful in what has been provided so far.
It is interesting that they withheld letters from the California State Lands Commission (pg 102-103), which likely related to the state’s interests with bottomlands conservation and invasive species safeguards. A FOIA request has been submitted to the State of California for any information the State Lands Commission may have on STORIS. As you know, she was towed directly from Suisun Bay to Ensenada without having her bottom inspected or cleaned for invasive species.
The FOIA submitted to the California State Lands Commission is here: http://goo.gl/45N2KK
Additional information is redacted because of the "deliberative process" privilege, which allows the government to withhold information based on the position that MARAD officials were discussing how they were going to handle policy and procedure. The problem is, much of the information that we need to have answered as to how and why the ship was allowed to be illegally sold and illegally exported would be part of that discussion. As pointed out in other appeals, it is the burden of the agency to explain how information withheld based on the deliberative process fits in to their decision-making process and ultimately, if the withheld information was factored into the final decision, it has to be released. An appeal will be filed including that position from our perspective.
It’s also very hard for the government to argue that there is no public interest or benefit in releasing this information.
I am very curious as to how the documentation in the MARAD release corresponds with what the CG has released. I suspect that there is paperwork in the MARAD release, though redacted and useless, that was not acknowledged by the CG in its FOIA response to me.
On Pg 9 – there is a reference to clearance from the U.S. State Department in relation to the ship being exported. That raises some additional questions as to what the State Department had to do with STORIS’ export. I will have to pursue that further. It may have been something to do with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) or Regional Security and Arms Transfers (RSAT) since STORIS was constructed as a military ship and was being sent out of the country.
Pg 35 – There is a reference by Joe Pecoraro, the superintendent of the MARAD reserve fleet, remarking on the good condition of the ship, that she would have been a good museum ship candidate.
Pg 68 - A very interesting detail from MARAD: STORIS was the anchor for the row that she was located in at Suisun Bay and her removal required extensive planning and execution. This, combined with other ships scheduled to be removed from the SBRF meant that the ship would not have been able to be moved until Aug 27. This is the first heard of that. The GSA deadline in the auction was July 12, so that conflicts greatly. If the GSA and Coast Guard wanted to get rid of STORIS so badly and so quickly, why wasn’t that worked out/coordinated with MARAD sooner so that it was understood that STORIS wasn’t going to be moved by July 12, just two weeks after the late June auction?
Even so, the ship was not moved in September, then the Coast Guard’s paid rent for the ship ran out at the end of the month. Then the government shutdown went into effect. All the while, the ship’s buyer, Mark Jurisich of U.S. Metals Recovery, was making his plans to illegally export STORIS to Mexico for scrap while trying to extort $250,000 for the ship from the nonprofit STORIS Museum and Last Patrol. That was some 357% more than he paid for her through the questionable GSA auction.
While these dates may explain how Jurisich got away with leaving the ship for so long in the SBRF, it does not explain how he was allowed to buy the ship in the first place, considering the undocumented hazardous materials we strongly believe were on board would have made the sale illegal through federal law. There is also the matter of the ship being illegally sold through GSA, as her tonnage exceeded that of which GSA is allowed to dispose. Instead, MARAD should have handled STORIS’ disposal. Finally, there is the matter of the government allowing STORIS’ export when, as a U.S. military vessel, Section 3502 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 would have required her scrapping to be handled in the U.S.
Finally, the photos of her sea chests for the blanking are sickening to see as they show what good condition her hull was in.
STORIS did not deserve this.
Posted by USCGC STORIS - Life and Death of a CG Queen at 4:37 PM